Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Things: 18th Century Wigs & Hairstyles

At the beginning of and clear through to the mid 18th century, wigs were the height of fashion and were a statement of status, wealth, and prestige. Wigs were worn by the nobility whenever they appeared in public and by the time they hit their peak of fashion, women's wigs became quite ornate and even outlandish, sometimes sporting model ships and even real bird's nests.  However, by the late 1770s and early 1780s, wigs began to fall from fashion, with young men and women preferring to style and powder their own hair. Wigs then, were only worn at high court functions, and were far less garish and outlandish. By the end of the century the wig had fallen completely out of fashion and men were beginning to cut their hair in shorter styles, while women's hairstyles modeled the styles found on the statues of the women of ancient Greece and Rome.

The tail that hung from the back of both men's and women's hairstyles and wigs was called a queue (pronounced  cue), and for men, was symbolic of the length of their...well, you know. Mozart was known for his long, thick hair that hung clear to the middle of his back. Mozart's queue was generally clubbed and bound tightly with a black satin ribbon. When he was employed by the Prince Archbishop Colleredo of Salzburg, he was required to wear a white wig with the queue hidden in a black satin tie bag whenever he was at court, or when he played the organ in the cathedral. 

In the 1780s a high tariff on wig powder went into effect, causing people to abandon both the powdering of wigs as well as the powdering of their own hair, and thus gave way to a more natural look in both men's and women's hairstyles. Instead of ornamenting their hair, they ornamented their hats, which resulted in hats that were sometimes every bit as outlandish as the wigs had once been. 

By the end of the century and on into the early 19th century hairstyles for both men and women became more natural and closer cut. If a queue was worn, it was a short pig-tail and even that disappeared completely by 1800. The Regency period in fashion sought to imitate the ancient Greeks and therefore fashions were scaled down completely and became much softer and more subdued.


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